The Massachusetts Port Authority faces several major challenges over the next few years, including adding international routes out of Logan Airport, modernizing port facilities to accommodate larger cargo ships, and developing the East Boston waterfront, the agency’s new chief executive said.
In one of his first extended interviews since he was selected to lead the agency almost two months ago, Thomas Glynn said meeting these challenges could prove vital to Greater Boston’s economy, which has become increasingly tied to the global economy for markets, investment, and talent.
“We want to make sure we’re an economic engine for the region,” said Glynn, “because at the end of the day that’s kind of our main purpose.”
Glynn, the former chief operating officer of Partners HealthCare, succeeded Thomas Kinton who retired more than a year ago. Before Partners, Glynn had a long career in public service, leading the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and serving as deputy secretary of the Labor Department.
Since taking charge, Glynn, 66, has worked to familiarize himself with the mammoth operation that is Massport, which oversees Logan, Worcester Regional Airport, and Hanscom Field, and the container and cruise ship terminals in the Port of Boston. In fiscal year 2011, Massport generated nearly $538 million in revenues from Logan, parking facilities, and other operations.
Glynn has met with officials of the Transportation Security Administration, State Police, and FBI about airline and port safety. He has talked to union officials about labor issues at Logan and listened to East Boston community leaders about neighborhood concerns.
Massport is in the beginning stages of developing a long-term plan to address challenges such as passenger growth at Logan, which hit a record 28.9 million last year. Logan’s newest international route, the Japan Airlines flight between Boston and Tokyo, has been a success since it launched in April, with daily flights running about 84 percent full.
Glynn said he is focused on adding more nonstop connections to overseas markets in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, including Israel and the Persian Gulf, all regions with significant or growing business connections to Massachusetts. Central America is seen as a prime contender for the next international route.
Logan’s relatively small size, however, poses a challenge to attracting new airlines and routes. There is little room to grow because the airport is surrounded by water on three sides and the dense East Boston neighborhood on the other. No other airport serves as many passengers on such a small footprint — about 1,700 acres — according to Massport.
The terminal with the most potential for expanded service is international Terminal E, which is only busy when European flights come and go in the afternoon and early evening. That leaves room for flights to and from Asia and Latin America, which operate at different times.
“Boston and Massachusetts are part of the global economy more so than many other cities, but we have a small campus to work with,” Glynn said.
The port also faces challenges when supersize container ships start sailing through the expanded Panama Canal in 2015. Many US ports, including Boston’s, are not deep enough to accommodate these ships, and Massport is working with the US Army Corps of Engineers to conduct a study about dredging the main shipping channel.
The proximity of Logan to the Conley Terminal presents an added concern, because the container facility is in the approach path of two runways. The taller container ships could create obstructions, forcing planes to land further down the runway or take off sooner, making the airport less efficient.
“Even if we did the digging, it doesn’t mean the planes would be comfortable with the clearance,” Glynn said.
One possible solution is to send the megacontainer ships to hubs in the Caribbean, where they would transfer cargo to smaller ships that would deliver it to Boston.
Another area of focus for Massport’s new chief is the development of its land on the East Boston waterfront. A plan for 560 housing units and 22,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space was disclosed in 2000, but construction never got off the ground. The area is considered a prime spot for development because of its stunning views of Boston and proximity to stores and restaurants in the surrounding neighborhood.
Three other sites sit adjacent to Massport’s property, and if the project, known as Roseland, moves forward, it could encourage more development, Glynn said.
“It’s a big opportunity,” he said, raising the blinds in his East Boston office to reveal the Boston skyline twinkling across the harbor, “because I think if I put that on a postcard, it would probably sell.”